04-2006: In Style

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An ornate 200-year-old cuckoo clock marks the hours at Rebecca Romijn's bucolic hideaway. Well, most of the time. The clock, it turns out, is not always wound correctly and twitters its ludicrous chime at random intervals in the day. But this odd temporal lapse only accents the offbeat charm of the residence. Romijn's idea of serenity in Calabasas is a cross between a Swiss chalet and a frontier cottage. Or, as her future father-in-law once dryly observed, the inside of a cuckoo clock. "I thought to myself, Is that an insult? It reminded me I needed to get one,"says Romijn on a recent afternoon, honeyed light dancing through her flaxen hair.

Meet the exquisite chameleon next door. It doesn't seem fair that a former Sports Illustrated cover model would also possess a truly wacky sense of humor, but Romijn crackles with wit and so does her home, decorated with such whimsical knickknacks as deer-antler lights, hand puppets, and a taxidermic chicken roosting high on a beam. And then there are the pictures: framed portraits of Romijn and her friends dressed in peculiar, kitschy getups as captured at the local Wal-Mart studio. Tripping to the mall in wigs, fake fingernails and flamboyant outfits is this star's idea of fun.

Perching her Pilates-hewn body on a leather chair in her cozy living room, Romijn has only to breathe to claim an audience. The beauty, like the laughter, is easy, outrageously natural. Aside from the jungle-red nail polish left over from our shoot and a colossal canary-yellow diamond engagement ring, her only concession to feminine artifice is a slick of tawny lip gloss. Framed by the pine interior of her log cabin, she resembles a Norse deity gone AWOL in the Wild West. She is affable, voluble and animated. "I don't have to tell you how absolutely beautiful Rebecca is," says her besotted fiancé, Jerry O'Connell, "but what I really love about her is that she's a character."

Pepper Dennis, a spry new WB series, is clear-cut confirmation of that. Romijn plays a steely reporter on Chicago's leading evening news program who competes for airtime with a handsome rival. Verbally dexterous and sartorially glamorous ("I watch the ladies on CNN, and they're georgeous!" she says), Dennis is a lovable gal, a modern-day Mary Tyler Moore type. But the biggest revelation is how funny Romijn is. "She's on the cusp of impressing people in an entirely new way," says Shawn Levy, the show's director. Romijn reveals a flair for physical comedy, including running full-tilt into a bus shelter in pursuit of a story. "There's no way to fake that," adds Levy. "She had to do it. Rebecca's willingness to make fun of herself and play with her image is courageous. It's an endearing trait, and it's rare."

It would appear that Romijn was born a comedian first and a goddess second. Naming Lucille Ball and Goldie Hawn as her acting icons, the actress aspires to distill the best from both. I idolize the women who have found that combination of sexy and funny," she says. Many MTAs (models turned actresses) have tried for this majestic mix and fallen flat on their flawless faces, but Romijn mapped her trajectory with grace and stealth. First she dabbled in small but memorable parts in television, on Friends and just Shoot Me, and gradually she hoofed her long legs into films. She never overreached in her roles, and slowly she found her niche.

"It's unusual for someone to be as stunning as Rebecca is and also have such a great sense of humor," says Mike Binder, the director of Man About Town, one of three films Romijn will be seen in this year. The others are The Alibi and, in May, the third installment of X Men: The Last Stand. An early screening of Man About Town prompted Steven Spielberg to cross examine Binder on what makes Rebecca tick. "People are catching on to the fact that she's really got something special," says Binder. Romijn appears as the brassy wife of a Hollywood talent agent (Ben Affleck) who's trying to get back into his good graces after dallying with another man. "Affleck and I teased her all day long, and she just teased back," adds the director. "there's nothing precious about her." says O'Connell who also appears in The Alibi. "She's the most entertaining person I've ever met."

Signing on as the lead character of a new TV show required no taxing leap for Romijn. "I hadn't read anything like Pepper Dennis in the film world," she says. "I was laughing out loud, tears welling up in my eyes." She was also enticed by the regularity of the job, a departure from the erratic nature of filmmaking with its months away from home and long breaks filled with soaking up daytime soaps. "I need structure. This felt like my first adult decision," says Romijn, 33. Now, she scans the local news and programs like Most Outrageous Live TV Moments for inspiration. "The things they have the local newscasters do," she says incredulously. "One woman filed a report riding a roller coaster."

The metaphor of a topsy turvy roller coaster is not lost on Romijn. Married in front Of 400 guests at the Beverly Hills Hotel almost a decade ago, she and John Stamos were joined at the hip and as exposed as a Hollywood pair can be. Not surprisingly, the breakup set off a dark period of disequilibrium for Romijn, which she talks about quietly. Asked what life lessons she gleaned from her first marriage, Romijn says, "I know that it's important to try and be as happy as possible and to make your world as great as you can make it. I did a lot of therapy and spent two years figuring out what's what, and I've worked to make where I live a happy haven. I feel peaceful and brave. It's been an interesting ride."

"We have a lot of love for each other," Romijn continues, when asked if she and Stamos still communicate. "When I got engaged again I let him know so he heard it from me and not other people, and I think he was grateful for that. John and I certainly don't have a regular relationship, but he's a great, great guy. I was very young when we met. Becoming an adult outside that relationship was important." Her mother has observed the turnaround. "She's good at finding the best in things, the best in every situation," says Elizabeth Kuizenga. "She's in a really good place right now. And she's so happy with Jerry."

In the summer of 2004 Romijn flew to Las Vegas to produce a project of her own, a documentary titled Wet Dreams about the slippery challenges of choreographing the fountains at the Bellagio hotel (an insanity as opposed to a vanity project, you might say). It was there she reconnected with O'Connell, whom she had met at a party a few years earlier. The Crossing Jordan actor, already smitten, volunteered his services on the documentary. "I'd have done a lot crazier things to have spent more time with her," he says. If she had asked me to paint her house, I would have said yes." From Romijn's viewpoint, it was an ideal way to test the waters of their mutual attraction. "There was a group of us, and we all went out together to shows at night it was great. Jerry is gorgeous, crazy funny and extremely charismatic."

If Stamos once cheekily dubbed her Rebecca Remain Silent for her chatterbox ways, in O'Connell she has found someone who appreciates a gabfest as much as she does. The garrulous couple share a perpetual effervescence and a zany elan. Whether trysting at quirky hotels like the Madonna Inn on California's Central Coast, or skipping to the DMV to renew a license, they do it with a blithe spirit. Last summer, back from a decadent wine country jaunt, they added 800 vines of merlot and cabernet grapes to their expansive ranch, with its lemon grove and hundreds of oak trees. "We're vintners!" Romijn says excitedly. "The vineyard was a gift from Jerry. It was the most romantic gift ever."

Their union is a meeting of two coasts: The urbane O'Connell is a native New Yorker ("When I think of wilderness I think of Washington Square Park," he deadpans), while Romijn is the classic outdoorsy California girl. It's been really fun showing him California," Romijn says, adding that they're still deliberating over the location of their upcoming wedding. While they got engaged at his parents' Manhattan apartment, the wedding will most likely take place in her home state. What is certain is that it will be a much less lavish affair than her first one, in 1998, complete with an ivory gazar and Chantilly lace Badgley Mischka gown. "It was big, and I don't need to do that again. It's completely different now we're not doing this for anybody but ourselves." And though she scoffs at rumors that she's pregnant, Romijn says she's ready for kids.

Growing up in incense burning, Birkenstock wearing Berkeley, the daughter of a custom furniture maker and an English teacher, Romijn and her younger sister, Tamara, benefited from a distinctly wholesome childhood. Despite the surplus of granola, wheat germ and whole grain bread, she dismisses the notion that her parents were hippies. "My mom always says we couldn't afford the fringe jackets that went with the hippie lifestyle," says Romijn. Her parents divorced when she was 7. "My mother moved right across the street, and my sister and I would literally run back and forth in our nightgowns." As light-hearted as that sounds the dissolution of the marriage did take a toll. It was traumatic," Romijn says, her cerulean eyes widening. I still have divorced kid's issues."

Romijn's Dutch born father and Dutch American mother instilled in her an old school European work ethic. "I'm a diligent person, and that came directly from having hardworking parents. They also gave me a certain amount of humility." To this day she's not one for entourages or velvet roped VIP rooms. When at 19 Romijn deferred her studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz for a modeling career in Paris, her parents were reasonably concerned. "In retrospect it was scary. I didn't have any money, I didn't know where I would live," she recalls. But it paid off, financially, emotionally, aesthetically. The self consciously skinny girl who once padded her clothing blossomed into a bedizened butterfly in the fashion hothouse of Paris. "I became more confident, and I polished up," she says, flashing a chandelier smile. "Living in Paris was a crash course in chic."

Back on home turf she springboarded from Victoria's Secret to MTV's House of Style, and to the big screen shortly after. In each venture she has demonstrated a plucky willingness to dissemble, to take on new personas. In Dirty Work (1998), her cinematic debut, she wore a beard. In Rollerball she donned a black bob wig and a spectacular facial scar. And for X Men she endured long hours of sticky prosthetic makeup as the aquamarine villainess Mystique, making her an honorary member of the Blue Man Group. "I saw that show and went backstage to compare notes on blue body paint!" she says, giggling.

Perhaps such an appetite for the absurd comes from having both feet planted firmly on earth. Five years in leafy Calabasas has anchored her. Romijn stumbled upon the residence, a brothel in the 1930s, while hiking with one of her dogs: "The house was dilapidated, but I fell in love with it. I feel so safe and happy here." Romijn has boldly embellished the acrie with flea market finds, such as antique Mexican blankets and matching leather chairs from Paris, which sit at the foot of her bed. Her woodworker father, Jaap Romijn, has contributed a redwood side table and several intricate puzzles. There is not much that is O'Connell's not yet anyway. "He lets me do my thing," she says playfully.

At one point she considered assembling a menagerie ("I wanted a burro, a llama, a potbellied pig!"), but she has settled on four frisky canines, one recently adopted from a shelter. As the boisterous dogs run circles around her and sunlight gilds a stretch of mountains, Romijn appraises her domestic handiwork and says, "People always think it's crazy far out here, but I think it's worth the drive. Isn't it nice?" Actually it trumps nice it's delicious and just a little unusual, a lot like the woman herself, resolutely comfortable in her element, bathed in a pool of gleaming light.

Original article: In Style 04/2006

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